How to deal with negative thoughts
The importance of changing unhelpful thinking patterns
”The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
Do constant negative thoughts run through your mind each day?
Are you always worrying about:
- How certain situations will play out?
- Not having enough work and/or money?
- The safety and/or wellbeing of you and your loved ones?
It’s normal to feel worried from time to time. However, if you’ve found yourself caught up in an unhelpful thinking pattern and struggling to climb out, it’s important to source strategies to help you understand and short circuit them. As a result, you can get back to thinking in a more helpful way that allows you to focus on the things that matter the most.
What causes unhelpful thinking patterns?
If you’re feeling an ‘unhelpful emotion’, such as depression or anxiety, it’s common for negative thoughts and self-sabotaging statements to jump to mind. It’s usually automatic and you mightn’t realise you’re even doing it.
The problem is – negative emotions feed negative thoughts. And negative thoughts feed even more negative thoughts. Before you know it, you’ve spiralled into emotional distress. This can lead to more frequent emotional outbursts, greater difficulty managing anxiety and/or depressive symptoms, and overall mental and physical exhaustion.
The first step is to recognise when a negative thinking pattern has taken hold of you.
What does a negative thought pattern look like?
When negativity has become a habit, it can be difficult to recognise. Here are some typical unhelpful thought patterns that might sound familiar:
Black and white thinking – You only see one extreme or the other. A situation is either extremely good or right or extremely bad or wrong.
Over-generalising – You take one instance from the past or present, then use it to describe all current and future situations. For example, you may say “You always…” or “I never…”
Mental filter – You experience tunnel vision and can only focus on one part of the scenario. For example, only seeing the negative and forgetting all the positive aspects.
Disqualifying the positive – You undervalue or ignore the positive aspects. For example, saying “I guess I’m a good candidate for the job, but there are plenty of people out there who are probably better.”
Jumping to conclusions – You assume others are thinking a certain way or predicting how they’re going to act.
Catastrophising (magnification) – You assume the worst is going to happen.
Emotional reasoning – You think something bad is about to occur based on your current feelings.
Critical thinking (should and musts) – You put unreasonable pressure on yourself or others to achieve something.
Labelling – You make global statements based on the behaviour of yourself or others.
Personalisation – You blame yourself for everything that’s going wrong, even if you’re only partly responsible – or not at all.
How to create healthier thought patterns
If any of the above thought patterns hit home, now is your chance to change your mindset.
First of all, you need to recognise your brain produces thousands of thoughts every day. Some are productive and healthy, but others are unhelpful – and these can overpower the positive at times! Here are some tips for creating healthier thought patterns:
It’s best to see these negative thoughts as only thoughts. Try naming the pattern based on the list above. Describe and define the actual problem, rather than being caught up in your feelings. It can also help to write them down. If you can think of a solution, then take action – even if it’s just writing out a few small steps.
You can also say to yourself “Does this thought need my immediate attention?”. If not, try and distance yourself from these thoughts by returning your attention to the task at hand.
Remember, you don’t need to give your attention to every passing thought. Most importantly, you need to learn to notice and recognise when you’re caught up in negative thinking. Then you can start to shift your thinking to thoughts and/or solutions that will ultimately be more helpful and kinder to yourself.
Focus on the positives
Unfortunately, negative thoughts often create more uncertainty. If unhelpful thoughts become embedded in the things that are out of your control, it’s not going to be helpful in any way and likely lead to more distress.
Try and take a step back. Ask yourself “How would I like to think or feel about this situation? This can be a tricky question and will take practise, but try to focus on the things that are within your control and what is working well. This often results in more achievable and kinder choices, making you feel lighter in your thinking and how you feel.
Distract and refocus
Sometimes negative thoughts can become really sticky and difficult to shift, even with the above suggestions. If that’s the case, taking some time out can be helpful. Try going for a walk, reading a book, doing some craft, meditating or calling a positive-thinking friend.
Mindfulness is perfect for reducing the stress hormone. It can help calm and settle the unhelpful thinking patterns. There are multiple exercises you could try. Read my blog for some inspiration here.
If you’re still struggling with unhelpful thought patterns, it’s important to seek support and find strategies that will work for you.
Do you need Counselling Support?
If you need counselling support, contact Kylie Lepri for a FREE 15-minute phone call to discuss your situation and find out how she can help. Call us now on 0404 032636 or book your free phone call online.
Kylie Lepri is a registered Psychotherapist, Marriage & Relationship Counsellor, Clinical Supervisor, and Training Consultant. Since 2003 she has helped individuals and couples work through life stressors, develop new goals and create better relationships. Get Kylie’s FREE ebook: 5 Proven Strategies to help manage stress today, by joining her newsletter here.